Engagement on Donald Trump’s Facebook posts has dropped by approximately 45 percent since the platform introduced a new algorithm change, following a year of pressure from left-wing employees and the mainstream media for “allowing” the President to win the 2016 general election.
In January, Facebook introduced a major change to its newsfeed algorithm. In a post, CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed that the change aimed to give greater emphasis to posts from “friends, family and groups” and less to “businesses, brands and media.” The change was followed by a promise to promote what Facebook calls “broadly trusted” news sources on the platform.
In the month following the algorithm change, engagement on Donald Trump’s Facebook posts dropped sharply. Total engagement dropped by approximately 45 percent, according to data from leading social media analytics firm NewsWhip. In an email to Breitbart News, a representative of Newswhip confirmed that Breitbart’s reading of the data was accurate.
Average engagement on Trump’s Facebook posts following the algorithm change also dropped significantly, by approximately 38 percent.
The decline in engagement on Trump’s Facebook cannot be attributed to a drop in posting frequency on the part of Trump. In the 13 days prior to Facebook’s algorithm change (28 Dec – 10 Jan), Trump made 67 posts, with no significant drop in engagement. After the change, Trump posted at roughly the same rate – between 59 and 67 posts in each 13-day period, but was still met with the dramatic decline in engagement seen above.
When compared to high-profile Democratic political figures, Trump’s engagement appears to have been hit particularly badly. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders do not appear to have suffered a comparable decline in Facebook engagement.
Even if they did face a similar decline, it would not be comparable in terms of impact. As the graph above shows, they are far less successful on Facebook than President Trump, which means they have far less to lose. Currently, any change that reduces the reach or engagement of public figures on Facebook will disproportionately affect Trump when compared to public figures with much lower engagement.
In a comment to Breitbart News, Facebook appeared to acknowledge that their algorithm change might have caused Trump’s engagement numbers to fall. A Facebook representative highlighted the following section of their post announcing the algorithm change:
Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease. The impact will vary from Page to Page, driven by factors including the type of content they produce and how people interact with it.
Facebook’s algorithm change came after a year of pressure from the media, politicians, and employees inside Facebook following the election of Donald Trump. Facebook was accused of helping Trump win the election, spreading Russian propaganda and fake news, and creating partisan echo chambers.
In a piece entitled “Inside Facebook’s Two Years of Hell,” Wired highlighted the threat from legislators with a foreboding quote from Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. “You’ve created these platforms, and now they’re being misused, and you have to be the ones to do something about it … or we will.”
Mark Zuckerberg drew curiosity from the media when he said recent changes to the platform would cause users to spend less time on Facebook — and that this was intentional. Why would any social media company want users to spend less time on their platform? At the time, Slate suggested that the company had been so battered by a year of public scrutiny over its political influence that it was now choosing to abdicate that influence by making the platform less lucrative for political figures.
There’s only one snag – punishing public figures across their platform will disproportionately affect those who rely on it the most. In an environment where the mainstream media is stacked against their movements, that is usually going to be populist candidates like Donald Trump.
Facebook can expect scrutiny given Donald Trump’s appointment of Brad Parscale as his 2020 election campaign chief. Parscale was the Trump campaign’s digital guru in 2016, and credited Facebook as the crucial factor in Trump’s victory. If Trump’s reach and engagement are being disproportionately cut back on the world’s biggest social network, it’s unlikely to escape his notice.